Investigators found instances in which the analysts used intelligence about U.S. citizens that may have been gathered illegally. In one case, a fusion center in California wrote a report on a notorious gang, the Mongols Motorcycle Club, that had distributed leaflets telling its members to behave when they got stopped by police. The leaflet said members should be courteous, control their emotions and, if drinking, have a designated driver.
“There is nothing illegal or even remotely objectionable [described] in this report,” one supervisor wrote about the draft before killing it. “The advice given to the groups’ members is protected by the First Amendment.”
Financial questions were pervasive, with the report saying oversight has been so lax that department officials do not know exactly how much has been spent on the centers. The official estimates varied between $289 million and $1.4 billion.
A DHS official, who insisted on not being identified because he was not authorized to talk to the news media, acknowledged that the department does not closely track the money but said it conducts audits of the fusion spending. The official said that just under half of the fusion centers’ budgets comes from the department.
In the statement, the department said its Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the grants, provides “wide latitude” for states to decide how to spend the money.
“All of the expenditures questioned in the report are allowable under the grant program guidance, whether or not they are connected with a fusion center,” the statement said.
The Senate report said local and state officials entrusted with the fusion center grants sometimes spent lavishly. More than $2 million was spent on a center for Philadelphia that never opened. In Ohio, officials used the money to buy rugged laptop computers and then gave them to a local morgue. San Diego officials bought 55 flat-screen televisions to help them collect “open-source intelligence” — better known as cable television news.
Senate investigators repeatedly questioned the quality of the intelligence reports. A third or more of the reports intended for officials in Washington were discarded because they lacked useful information, had been drawn from media accounts or involved potentially illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens, according to the Senate report.